The Columbus Blue Jackets were in no mood to explain what had happened in their 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Friday.
They allowed the Maple Leafs to rally from three goals down in the final four minutes of the third period, pushing the game to overtime before Auston Matthews extended the series with a power-play goal at 13:10.
Now, instead of eliminating the Maple Leafs, the Blue Jackets are faced with a deciding Game 5 in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, FS-O).
“This is what happens in a series, the ups and downs,” Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said. “It’s a roller coaster. We’ve got to try to stay as even-keeled as we can and deal with these ebbs and flows. So we’re not going to dwell on it. We’re going to put it behind us and get ready for Game 5.”
Columbus is the third team to lose an NHL postseason game after leading by three goals with less than four minutes remaining in the third period.
The Edmonton Oilers lost to the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in double overtime after leading 3-1 with 3:16 remaining in the third period of Game 5 of the 2017 Western Conference Second Round, and the Dallas Stars lost to the Oilers 4-3 in overtime after leading 3-1 with 4:00 left in the third period of Game 3 of the 1997 Western Conference Quarterfinals.
But that wasn’t the focus after the game. Game 5 was.
“I think we’ve got confidence in our group,” Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard said. “I think we didn’t panic or anything … I think we just stopped moving our feet. We just need to keep getting on the forecheck and we would have been fine, but we move past it and we get ready for Game 5.”
The Blue Jackets were leading by a seemingly comfortable 3-0 score in the third period, on goals by Cam Atkinson at 3:58 of the first, Vladislav Gavrikov at 4:40 of the second, and Boone Jenner at 14:18 of the third.
But then the Maple Leafs scored three goals, all with goalie Frederik Andersen pulled for an extra attacker, starting with William Nylander at 16:03, John Tavares 51 seconds later, and Zach Hyman with 23 seconds remaining in the third period.
That set up Matthews for the season-saving goal for Toronto.
“We just stopped moving our feet, kind of stayed back and stopped forechecking the left side. They took advantage of it,” Jones said.
Columbus did not have defenseman Zach Werenski for the final 9:08 of the third period and all of overtime. Coach John Tortorella did not have an update after the game. As part of the NHL Return to Play Plan, a team is not permitted to disclose player injury or illness information.
“I’m not going to dissect this one,” Atkinson said. “It’s a series for a reason. They clearly wanted it more than us.”
For most of 56 minutes, the Blue Jackets played a good game. They controlled the Maple Leafs. They did what they wanted and needed to do to contain what can be a prolific offense. They just couldn’t close it out.
But they will take what positives they can — though none of the Blue Jackets were about to talk specifics in the wake of the game’s end — and move on.
That’s all they can do, really.
“I think we’ve just got to play to our strengths, what makes us successful,” Jenner said. “It’s a do-or-die game on Sunday, so it’s got to be our best.”